Release Date: Mar 20, 2012
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop
The Shins' 2004 microhit "New Slang" established one of the more pliant templates in 2000s pop – Feist, Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons all owe something to its frumpy intimacy and strummy, mumbled moodiness. But James Mercer has been stretching for something grander ever since; 2007's Wincing the Night Away was almost prog-rock in its micromanaged ambition. On the first Shins record in five years, he nails a balance of economy and sweep, matching the studio lushness he craves with the secondhand melodicism that made "New Slang" resonate beyond the vegan cookouts of his base in Portlandia.
Five years: That’s how long it’s been since The Shins released their last record. It’s not necessarily an exorbitant amount of time, but a lot can change in five years. Five years ago, I was in the second semester of my freshman year of college where my daily activities typically consisted of going to class and sleeping—sometimes simultaneously.
The Sopranos ended. The United States elected an African-American president. The global financial system more or less keeled over. The U.S. stopped sending people into space and "got" Osama Bin Laden, both in the same year. Harry Potter peaced out-- twice. Zach Braff's career shit the bed. Martin ….
Port of Morrow is transition time for The Shins. This fourth album from the jangling, arch-pop Portland-based “ensemble” is their first in five years, their first away from their longtime home at Sub Pop, their first featuring keyboardist Richard Swift (among other new members) and their first after the main Shin, vocalist-composer James Mercer, went on the spacey soul excursion of Broken Bells with producer Danger Mouse. Mercer has brought some of the open airiness and percussive clanging from Broken Bells into Port of Morrow, but not enough to tear The Shins from their slick indie-guitar tangle.
Five years after Wincing The Night Away and a lot has happened in the world of The Shins. James Mercer has spawned Broken Bells with Danger Mouse, for one. For another, good old 'aesthetic differences' has seen the departure of founding members Marty Crandall and Jesse Sandoval, with Ron Lewis, Eric D. Johnson and Modest Mouse's Joe Plummer recruited in their place.
And then there was one: Only frontman James Mercer remains of the indie stars’ original lineup. Thankfully, he and his new mates have conjured the band’s best album in nearly a decade. Morrow offers a rejuvenated collection of aerated jangle pop and dreamy ditties in Port of Morrow. ”I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone,” Mercer sings on lead single ”Simple Song.” Good to know that it worked out in the end.
Arriving five years after Wincing the Night Away, Port of Morrow was the first Shins album to appear on James Mercer's Aural Apothecary imprint (also home to Broken Bells, his collaboration with Danger Mouse) and the first without the rest of the band that appeared on the remainder of their discography. Instead, Mercer assembled a revolving cast of supporting performers that included Modest Mouse's Joe Plummer, Crystal Skulls' Yuuki Matthews, drummer-at-large Janet Weiss, and producer Greg Kurstin, who gives the album a big, radio-friendly sound. There's no pretense of democracy nor of being "indie" here, things that might be easier to decry if these weren't some of Mercer's best songs since Chutes Too Narrow.
It’s to the great credit of indie-rock fans that they’ve stayed on good terms with the Shins for all these years. James Mercer’s approach to songwriting, though celebrated for its quirkiness, is also strongly classicist; in a scene renowned for its attraction to irony and self-involved avant-gardism, the Shins almost single-handedly made a place for earnestness and melodicism. In some sense, Port of Morrow is the classic pop album that Mercer has always been on the verge of making, though that has more to do with its production, which is lusher and cleaner than anything else in the Shins catalogue, and its mostly straightforward melodic sensibility than with the quality of the songs themselves.
The ShinsPort Of Morrow[Columbia / Aural Apothecary; 2012]By Philip Cosores; March 20, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGOne of the defining aspects of a rock band is the collaborative spirit that occurs when you put a bunch of artists in a room and ask them to create something. As The Shins have become less and less a band and more an outlet for James Mercer to release a certain type of song that he considers a "Shins song," this kind of lens becomes useless when analyzing the music of the project. On the plus side of this, James Mercer is talented enough to release music of a certain quality no matter than the conditions, producing timeless tracks as a Shin in the form of "New Slang" and "Gone For Good" (among others) and creating a number of memorable tunes with Danger Mouse for both their Broken Bells project and Dark Night Of The Soul.
THE SHINS play the Molson Amphitheatre August 4. See listing. Rating: NNN Since the last Shins album came out five years ago, main man James Mercer has primarily kept busy with Broken Bells, his electronic music collaboration with Danger Mouse. But the time away from traditional songwriting hasn't dulled his skills, and his voice sounds better than ever.
It has been just over five years since The Shins last released an album. Coming after a similarly lengthy hiatus, Wincing The Night Away was the last record to feature keyboard player Marty Crandall and drummer Jesse Sandoval, a pair who had been members of the project since its predecessor, Flake Music, was founded in 1992. For many bands this would mark a watershed, perhaps result in a solo project for the front man.
Review Summary: Don't call it a comeback. For all the press lauding this as the comeback of one of modern indie’s more venerable acts, Port of Morrow sounds strangely suspended in time, caught in between the ghosts of its past and a far more promising future. Ostensibly it’s an album that showcases everything that made the Shins great; maybe not change-your-life amazing, but certainly one of the defining acts of the ‘00s, workmanlike indie pushed over the top by frontman James Mercer’s distinctive tenor and his remarkable melodic talents.
The sacking of two long-standing members and chief Shin James Mercer's 2010 collaboration with producer Danger Mouse may have sounded alarm bells among devotees. But it's largely business as usual here; bar the woozy soul of the title track, this is bookish, invitingly melodic college rock, delving liberally into the jangly navel-gazing of 80s British indie. Smart and anthemic, "40 Mark Strasse" and the Waterboys-channelling "Simple Song" provide ample evidence of why Mercer's songs are so widely cherished.
The Shins' James Mercer is rarely an adventurous songwriter. His indie-pop melodies often resemble Russian dolls: They appear to be intricate, but once you peel back each layer, you're left with an incredibly intricate and detailed series of colors and designs that fail to convey true and lasting emotional arcs. Mercer's simplicity was the house that Zach Braff admired when he used "New Slang" for his movie Garden State, but the Shins that recorded the "band that will change your life" records--2001's Oh, Inverted World and 2003's Chutes Too Narrow-- broke up a few years ago.
There is a theory that a great band is not merely a collection of musicians, but a mysterious, alchemical thing, somehow greater than the sum of its parts. Those who believe it relate as evidence the sagas of bands curiously diminished by the departure of what appeared to be the least important member: REM floundering without drummer Bill Berry; the Smiths lasting two weeks before reinstating errant bassist Andy Rourke; the sense that something indefinable but undeniable was lacking from New Order's albums without Gillian Gilbert. Any fans of the Shins who adhere to this theory might feel pained by the arrival of Port of Morrow.
Five years later, James Mercer returns to his comfortable outfit The Shins, and on the band’s fourth outing, things get slightly electronic. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, considering Mercer’s recent expeditions with Danger Mouse on Broken Bells, but it’s still somewhat of a new experience. But that’s sort of the glossy feeling that washes over Port of Morrow: new.
Take Heed, Everyone: Shins Have Inoffensive New Songs.. Plenty Of Respectable Tedium..
The Shins have always been about James Mercer, but on Port of Morrow, the Shins basically are James Mercer, and the distinction is an important one. Mercer, per usual, wrote all the songs, but he also recorded most of the instruments himself and has built nearly an entire new band around him to tour these songs, after parting ways with keyboard player Marty Crandall, drummer Jesse Sandoval, and bassist Dave Hernandez. The main collaborator on the record, then, isn’t band members but producer Greg Kurstin, and together he and Mercer have made an album that feels, well, awfully produced.
Collectively speaking, The Shins have crafted exceptionally strong pop throughout the last ten years. Even when they sounded drifting and far away, they never lost any kind of feeling for the strong hook of melodic essence that is at the core of their reach. James Mercer not only acts as the illustrious voice to the band but it’s never been a mystery that he was the lead songwriter as well.
The last time we heard from James Mercer, he'd teamed up with Danger Mouse in Broken Bells, broadening his audience beyond the indie rock faithful and giving fans permission to ride the groove. Given the Bells' success, it was inevitable that Mercer would bring some of that mojo back to his main project. Sure enough, Port of Morrow – the band's first album in five years, fourth LP overall, and first for the Sony conglomerate – boasts a certain Mouse-y flavor (though there's no Danger involved), with lush keyboard frosting and close attention paid to the rhythm section's fancy footwork.
A record with so much clever and excitable beauty, yet strangely disappointing. Martin Aston 2012 The Shins’ last album, 2007’s Wincing the Night Away, was largely recorded by commander-in-chief James Mercer alone, just as it was when he first developed a side project from his day job as Flake Music’s frontman. So a studio construct isn’t in itself bad news, even if it was like discovering The Smiths and Belle & Sebastian were merely interchangeable vehicles for their frontmen.